For decades, progressive Catholics have tried to change the notion of Catholic missions, especially among the more primitive peoples. Thus, Pope Francis’s trip to Canada highlights the dominance of this current that frames American Indian missionary work as an instrument of European oppression and the suppression of tribal cultures.
Armed with notions of Rousseau’s “noble savage” and liberation theology errors, this progressive wing of the Church even claims that tribal peoples did not need evangelization and might teach the West about living in harmony with nature.
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Such a rewriting of history distorts the traditional Catholic concept of the missions. It denigrates the heroic work of saints and missionaries who endured great hardships in their thirst for souls. It likewise ignores many atrocious customs, conditions and superstitions that crippled pagan cultures and wrought untold suffering upon these peoples.
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira denounces this maneuver to destroy the notion of the missions in his prophetic book, Indian Tribalism: The Communist-Missionary Ideal for Brazil in the Twenty-First Century. Today the partisans of this heterodox theory can be found among the Pachamama-venerating partisans of Amazonian “spirituality” and all Mother Earth (aka Gaia) worshippers among Indians throughout the Americas.
The Traditional Concept of the Missions
The obligation to evangelize came from the Great Commission when Christ said: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (Matt. 28: 18-20). Christ did not order the Apostles to impose their Jewish culture upon the peoples. Rather, He called upon the Apostles to teach the universal truths of the Gospel so that those who heard the “Good News” and believed might have access to eternal life.
Because of Original Sin, fallen humanity can fall into the worst depravity. Those who evangelized the world found it sunk in sin, vice and superstitions. There were no peoples on the earth that did not suffer from barbaric practices, constant warfare, famine, witchcraft, slavery and impurity.
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Mission comes from the Latin word “missio,” which comes from “mitto,” which means “I send.” Thus, the missionary was “sent” by Christ, through the Church, to free these poor souls from slavery to the devil. It was not a Jewish, Roman or later European project that transformed the pagan landscape. The primitive barbarians occupying Europe during antiquity were as cruel and savage as the tribes later found in the Americas. Both needed evangelization.
Thus, this missionary activity was often disruptive, as can be seen by the early Christian saints who overturned the idols, chopped down the sacred oak groves or forbade human sacrifice, infanticide or cannibalism. However, God blessed these efforts, and many peoples recognizing the misery of their situation, abandoned their erroneous ways and begged the missionaries to enlighten them. Whole peoples converted to the Faith as a result. Wherever the Church went, she preserved what was good in the culture and removed what was evil, always building an authentic Christian culture.
Aim of the Catholic Mission
Thus, the Catholic Mission model, developed over twenty centuries, was always very defined. Missionaries aimed for the salvation of souls so that they might receive the happiness of heaven and thereby give glory to God for all eternity.
Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira states, “The Church teaches that the normal way for a man to be saved consists in being baptized, believing and professing the doctrine and law of Jesus Christ.” It also consists in observing God’s law.
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This description is familiar to all who have read the lives of saints and missionaries and how they suffered hardship and martyrdom to bring souls to the Faith.
The Temporal Effects of the Mission
While the final goal of the missionary work is eternal salvation for souls immersed in the darkness of sin, the missions also had the added benefits of improving the earthly life of the new Christians as they learned to love God and neighbor.
Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira dares to state the Church’s traditional position that “To Christianize and to civilize are thus correlated terms. It is impossible to Christianize seriously without civilizing. Likewise and reciprocally, it is impossible to de-Christianize without disordering, brutalizing and forcing a return to barbarity.”
With the Gospel and the practice of the Ten Commandments, Christian order reigns, and society progresses materially, intellectually and culturally. The superstitions and barbaric customs that enslaved pagan peoples no longer tormented or left them in unhappy stagnation.
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The Indian Evangelization
The Indian evangelization differed from the barbarian conversions after the fall of the Roman Empire. These latter peoples converted to the Faith and formed Catholic nations where the Church could influence the whole culture without outside corrosive elements.
The later Indian evangelizations, however, were hampered by contact with decadent and modern neo-pagan explorers who had a corrosive influence on the converted populations. Protestant powers and bad Catholics often destroyed the beneficial work of the Catholic missions. Enlightenment ideas further darkened minds to the Truth. These influences made the Indians subject to many injustices that must be denounced. The work of the missionaries was harder by having to fight these corrupt Western elements in addition to the superstitions of pagan religions.
Nevertheless, the influence of the Church still benefited the Indians by opening to them the means of eternal salvation. Whole tribes were converted and baptized. These peoples often advanced materially and enjoyed the benefits of progress. Wherever the Church went, she alleviated the suffering, educated the youth and preserved native languages. Today the Church joyfully invokes the names of Native American saints from these populations, such as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Juan Diego and Saint Martin de Porres. Our Lady of Guadalupe came to Mexico and brought about the conversion of millions.
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Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira’s book outlines how “updated” missionaries have rejected the mission tradition and flipped the narrative to see the Indian peoples as “the true evangelizers of the world.” They have rejected Christ’s mandate to go and teach all nations and provide them with baptism as a means of salvation. Indeed, Fr. Corrado Dalmolego, an Italian Consolata priest directing the Catrimani mission in Brazil, bragged that his mission had not baptized anyone in over fifty-three years!
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Some partisans of this new “Church with an Amazonian face” seek to reinstate the practices of idolatry (Pachamama), nudity and immorality that enslaved their ancestors. The Indians are often expected to adopt communitarian lifestyles without private property, which shackles them in abject poverty.
The neo-missionary narrative fits well with liberation theology ideas that turn everything into a class struggle framework of oppressors and oppressed. It idolizes a primitive, Marxist, utopian ideal that never existed in Indian culture but is presented as a utopian model for the West.
The trip of Pope Francis to Canada serves as an occasion to further this subversive narrative much more by images than words. It is not to say that injustices did not happen. However, the focus of the criticism is couched in terms that favor revolution and resentment. The traditional concept of the mission’s salvific role has been abandoned in favor of a sociological and leftist perspective that greatly harms both Native Americans and North Americans of all ethnic backgrounds.
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira claims that the central focus must be “the power and kindness of the Savior,” Our Lord Jesus Christ, not the Antichrist represented by the modern neo-pagan tribal world. “Our Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely more powerful than the anti-Christ.” May all nations believe in Him and be baptized, so His prayer in the Our Father will be fulfilled “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Photo Credit: © The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada